Loading bays represent a key link in the production and distribution chain. What happens there can have a major impact on the efficiency of the whole warehouse operation – yet at the same time loading bays are one of the most hazardous areas of the warehouse.
The design of loading bays is a crucial factor when it comes to new builds. However, James Adams of Transdek, says that one of the main problem areas is with old warehouses which have been built to cater for relatively low volumes of goods coming in. Over the years, trade has increased dramatically, but often the store is still supplied via the same limited loading bay area.
The warehouse can no longer hold the volume of goods required by the store, so extra storage units are placed out in the yard, which becomes increasingly congested and makes it hard for vehicles to access the docks. Adams says this is a common scenario, often resulting in vehicles being offloaded in the yard rather than the designated loading bay areas.
“Because of land shortages and high property prices, companies often end up with premises that are not tailored to their specific logistics needs. This might mean that a company has to use a flat-floor warehouse rather than one with raised docks or sunken approaches. The company is then faced with offloading and reloading vehicles from ground level”, says Adams. This is not only a danger for the operators of loading bays, but problems also arise from the costs incurred by accidents and the subsequent loss of productivity.
Loading bay specialist Stertil Stokvis believes loading houses are an under-rated option which more logistics operations should consider. They’re complete units consisting of dock leveller and dock shelter in one, and are used to maximise warehouse space, providing a temperature-controlled area between the warehouse and the vehicles being unloaded. Stertil says that it’s also possible to build a loading house which can be moved around, creating a portable loading dock.
There’s an abundance of loading bay equipment variations on offer, which can be applied to minimise risks. John Meale, managing director of loading and unloading equipment specialists Thorworld Industries, says that spending time to choose well designed and manufactured loading bay and materials handling equipment can pay dividends in making the goods in/out process more efficient and even safer. According to Thorworld, an increasing quantity of MHE that doesn’t carry the official CE mark or meet European design standards is now coming into the country, particularly from Eastern Europe and Asia. The result is that accidents can occur from faulty equipment. The CE sign is something customers should always check for when choosing a supplier.
The potential health and safety hazards in the loading bay are considered to be among the most serious of any work place. It’s been estimated that 25 per cent of factory and warehouse accidents occur in the area, one of the most common being falls from vehicles. The Health and Safety Executive reports that as many as 2,000 workers are seriously injured every year as a result of falling from a vehicle with an average of five workers dying.
The HSE says that the cost of incidents it knows about is £36.7 million. Other hazardous aspects outlined by the HSE include manual handling, working at heights and general trips and slips which may occur due to uneven surfaces, spillages, or general debris such as elastic bands.
The European Union is clamping down on health problems generated by manual handling, involving the heavy and awkward lifting of goods. Univeyor points out that a typical 40ft container holds 1,000 cartons, weighing 10-15 kilos each. If three employees work for two to three hours each unloading this container, they would actually exceed the limit of lifts for the day, as outlined by the Working Environment Authority.
In response to this Univeyor, in cooperation with CPH Design, has developed an alternative to the manual unloading of containers with its automated boom conveyor – Empticon. Although the machine has a high capital cost, it has a fast payback time as it has a capacity of 600 cartons an hour. Kai Christensen of Univeyor, says that labour is currently scarce in Denmark, therefore the automated loading bay equipment is an ideal solution as it only requires one man to operate the machine.
Cold store loading bays face other problems such as humidity and ice control. Simon Richards, managing director of ATP Plant & Equipment, says the proximity to the cold store and the use of glycol lines running through the loading bay slab often reduce its surface temperature low enough to allow condensation to form.
Once mixed with dust from the trucks a slippery hazardous paste is created, which is a danger to staff, MHE, doors and impacts heavily on productivity. As the trucks then move to and from the store, ice builds up in the doorways creating further hazards.
According to Richards, damage to doors is an ongoing issue in cold stores.
An open or poorly sealed door consumes vast amounts of energy and exacerbates the problem. ATP offers humidity control equipment.